Minimising exam stress - How parents can help
Updated: Oct 5
As the parent of a teenager currently taking their GCSE exams I would love to be able to wave a magic wand to remove their feelings of stress, tiredness and overwhelm. In this short blog I'm sharing some techniques that, as a parent, I've been trying to implement in my house to create a calm environment conducive to learning.
Not living off of processed food. Trying to cook nutritious colourful meals to feed the brain and provide some energy. Although some treats are definitely allowed!
Drinking lots of water is super important to keep the body and brain hydrated and functioning well. Two litres is a good guide.
Getting enough sleep
Now is not the time to be going to bed really late. Set a reasonable time for bed and try to stick to it. If possible go to bed a the same time each night.
You may feel like there isn't time for exercising whilst trying to navigate a mountain of revision. But there are always pockets of time and you will reap the benefits if you do. Just walking around the block, going for a run or doing a quick workout at home will increase your energy levels and mental clarity.
Turning off all tech an hour before bed
We often struggle with this one in our house but when it's done, the evening routine preceding bedtime works a lot smoother. Sleep happens more easily because the brain hasn't influenced by the blue light of a phone or other device. Not only will the quantity of sleep be sufficient, but the quality of sleep will too.
Still doing what they enjoy
It's so important for them to do some of the things they love whether that be seeing friends, watching their favourite programmes, playing games online with their mates or playing sport for example. I encourage my daughter to organise rewards for herself to help break up the monotony of revision.
A chaotic house is not conducive to learning and calmness. If your child knows roughly what happens and why they will feel a lot more relaxed. They can set the routines themselves, for example, wake up/bed times, shower times, revision times.
Prepping bag the night before
'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail' Getting everything organised the night before will not only allow you to sleep with less worry but will ensure you are super organised for your exam/revision the following day.
Helping them to set realistic goals
Goals and tasks are much easier to achieve if they are SMART. Making them Specific, Measurable and Achievable, so they know if they have done well or not. And check that they are also Realistic and Time bound? Setting a goal to read a whole book in two hours isn't possible for most people. So try to help them break down goals into bite sized chunks so that the thought of working through them isn't overwhelming.
Motivating/inspiring them to believe in themselves
I'm sure we all do this anyway. I try to be full of encouragement, support and inspire them to do well and help them to see that they are doing well. I've told my daughter many times that what she is doing is enough and that is good enough. It's very easy to feel like you are never doing enough when it comes to exams (especially the night before) so it's super important to reaffirm that they are. As parents talk about our own experiences revising, doing exams, making study and subject choices, mistakes we made etc. and how, in the end, everything works itself out and we are where we are meant to be. There is always room for error. Your path can be changed or adapted or delayed.
Encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling
A difficult one, but I try to create an environment where they feel at ease to talk. Actively listen to what they are saying and what they aren't saying (which is often more important). Plus I always answer their questions openly and honestly.
Focusing on one day at a time
With so many exams (approximately twenty exams over five weeks) and several more before the traditional exam period, it's so important for them to not get overwhelmed and bogged down by the shear enormity of what is ahead. Or to get consumed by an exam that didn't go as well as they thought it would do. I talk about a metaphorical drawer where the exam for that day gets folded up and put in the drawer. It gives a little bit of head space to look forward to the next exam.
Don't take it personally
It's a real challenge sometimes dealing with a teenager on a normal day, but when you add exam stress into the mix it can ramp up to another level. There are highs and lows, times where nothing you say is right and where you feel exhausted yourself. I listen, sympathise and empathise. I try to remember what it was like for me doing my GCSEs (although there is definitely more pressure put on our young people these days). And at the end of each day, if I feel like I've been a human punch bag, I remind myself that there is an end to it all. I also make sure I take good care of myself so that I am well equipped to deal with everything that is thrown at me.
Remembering to breathe! (Deeply!)
Something so simple can have such a positive effect. At times of anxiety or stress concentrate on the breath. A really simple technique is to visualise a square and breathe in whilst you move alone one side of the square in your mind, breathe out as you move along the next side and repeat. The concentration involved in visualising the square will slow down the breath which will lower the blood pressure, slow the heart rate and signal to our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. This technique can be used wherever you are.